Monday, June 27, 2016

Pluralism in Action: How infrastructure, immigration policy are key for Silicon Valley North

by Tahnee Prior 
Originally published: June 23, 2016

As part of the Pluralism Project, a roundtable with Kitchener-Waterloo community leaders tackles how to attract diversity beyond larger urban centres.

In April, the Pluralism Project hosted a roundtable discussion with business leaders, industry associations and university administrators from Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo region. The meeting was the first in a series of roundtables organized across major Canadian cities by a research team at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, with the support of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. The Pluralism Project seeks to understand how social diversity can be harnessed for greater economic advantage.

My particular challenge was to see how pluralism is working in this specific community, where the tech industry often reigns supreme. What I discovered is that acknowledging the social benefits of diversity isn’t so much the issue, but that the challenge is to attract and retain that diversity in what has been called Silicon Valley North.

The Global 2015 Start-Up Ecosystem Report ranked Waterloo among the world’s top 25 start-up ecosystems. The region’s success, in part, relates to ongoing collaboration between academic institutions, business, municipal government and settlement organizations like the Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment Network. Despite being a growing hub of innovation, however, Kitchener-Waterloo faces a set of unique challenges unlike other Canadian cities its size: attracting and retaining a diverse workforce with skills for specialized sectors.